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A reader writes … By C. Mark Brown

February 12, 2001

If there is one thing I can't stand it's someone telling me what I can and can't do in my own back yard, especially if they don't even live in my neighborhood. Another thing that bothers me is finding a bunch of idiots in my back yard acting, well, like idiots; once again, especially if they don't even live in my neighborhood.

As a native of this Imperial Valley I've been visiting the Algodones sand dunes since I was 3 or 4 years old. I'm 40 now, and I've always admired their beauty and ruggedness. I've hiked, biked, buggied, jeeped, two-wheeled, three-wheeled and four-wheeled in the dunes, I've worked at the old Glamis Store and I damned near killed myself doing some of the things I did out there.

And I must tell you that words cannot adequately describe the beauty of the night sky on a clear, cool, moonless evening standing atop a tall sand dune and it's so quiet that all you can hear is the blowing sand hesitantly breaking off the nearest slipface. Or that the sunrises and sunsets are as stunning as any I have ever seen anywhere. I remember when a dune buggy was more or less a bodiless automobile with a big, souped up water pumper and it was really something if you could climb Competition Hill.


It was the locals who pioneered dune sports because the Algodones were right there in our back yard and there was plenty of sand for everyone. Only later, in the 1970s, did the metropolitan off-road crowd evolve, and that's when all hell broke loose.

They came in droves: 50,000, 75,000, 100,000 people visiting Algodones on a big holiday weekend. Each one hauling his or her own brand of destruction, tearing up the dunes and all of God's little creatures that rightfully claim them as their habitat, one big orgy powered by gasoline and alcohol. Then more came, squandering millions of dollars on our local economy as they paraded their $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 toys through our towns and cities. And what for all that the Bureau of Land Management had to get off their butts and earn a living, as well they should, because some of that desert crowd was getting a little out of hand. The rule of law had to be restored.

Now the environmentalists know about the Algodones, too, and they can't stand the thought of those pristine lands being defaced and defiled and set upon by the unclean, unwashed hordes that flock en masse each and every weekend (except for the five months of the year when it's so dang hot out the sidewinders only venture out after sundown) with their gas-guzzling, weed-killing, tortoise-smashing death machines.

So what do they decide is best? Shut it down! Now! No, not now! Yesterday! Yeah, that's it! They've got the ear of a federal judge in San Francisco, a bunch of their friends and brethren at the BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service and they cook up an endangered species or two, crank up the propaganda machine and outgun or outwit a politically weak opposition. Oh, and I'd like to personally thank the distinguished lady Senator from California (the ex-mayor one) for her pioneering environmentally safe spirit and unbending support.

So what's my point? They've ruined it for me. All of them. Every single one of the aforementioned individuals and groups. The pleasant memories of the Algodones I cherish are fading now. It's all about the ill-conceived legislation, the crowds, the fees, the garbage, the BLM telling me to park farther off the road, to slow down and asking for my ORV's current registration every time I visit. There's that helicopter the environmentalists leased to harass the duners and monitor the restricted areas and then there's the jackass that just rode through my campfire. They've all screwed up what used to be one of my all-time favorite destinations.

So all I am left with now are questions: Why can't all off-road enthusiasts have a little respect for the land, the law and their fellow enthusiasts and are their coalition dollars really being spent so wisely? Can the environmentalists show me their science; is there understanding of the habitat based on empirical evidence or anecdotal hysteria? Can't the politicians find a more urgent cause to champion and when is the last time they actually set foot in our desert? And are the bureaucrats charged with managing our public lands so inept or "green" that they can't or won't manage them competently, thereby ceding advantage to the environmentalists?

The Algodones were formed during the Pleistocene epoch, 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. They've been around a long time. Humans are no match for their extreme harshness. If you don't believe me take an afternoon buggy ride or better yet, walk out to Ernie's Hole in mid-August. I dare you. The blowing wind eventually buries or erases all traces of human activity in the sand.

Sound policy and sensible management are the keys to maintaining the Algodones for everyone to enjoy. Concentrating the duners into smaller and smaller areas is just going to invite more trouble and increase pressure to close the Algodones completely. Law-abiding citizens will become outlaws. I guarantee it.

Do you detect a measure of arrogance and selfishness in my rant? I certainly hope so. Because lost in the larger part of this fight over access to our public lands are the memories of how the Algodones were, not what they have become. I miss the days when I could stand atop Osborn Park on a pleasant afternoon and marvel at the view of the dunes stretching to the north before the Chocolate Mountains as far as the eye can see. By myself, alone.

C. Mark Brown, a vocational instructor at Calipatria State Prison, is a native of Brawley and still lives in that city.

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